In recent decades forests have taken on a crucial role in environmental policy by becoming a resource for the solution of environmental problems such as loss of biodiversity and global climate change. According to the Statement of Principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests, approved during the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, forests are defined as being essential for economic development and the survival of all forms of life; they are recognised as playing a role in conserving ecological processes, in protecting fragile ecosystems and as reserves of biological resources. In the Framework Convention on Climate Change, forests are recognised as playing a significant role in policies to mitigate and to adapt to climate change, principally because of their capacity to fix carbon and to produce alternative energy sources to fossil fuels, whose use is a root cause of greenhouse gas emissions.
Forests are no longer seen as a group of trees destined to produce timber, but mostly as a complex ecosystem, characterised by particular energy and trophic balances alongside of which new environmental functions are to be found, together with productive and protective functions.
If lawmakers in the 1920s were concerned primarily with how agriculture could damage forests in favour of cultivation, today's problems regard the protection of forests and their conservation in the face of the growth of urban areas, with water-management restrictions (Note 1)
taking on a wider role. For this reason Regione Veneto has introduced Regional Law L.R. no. 58/94, which delegates municipalities with the power to authorise the construction of buildings and infrastructure in areas subject to water-management restrictions.
Alongside water-management restrictions, landscape preservation began in the 1980s with the Galasso Act, L. no. 431/85, which classified forests as natural wonders and assigned new functions to them. The Galasso Act is now replaced by the Code of Cultural Heritage and Landscape, Legislative Decree D.L. no. 42/04.
In terms of landscape, the regulation anticipated what forests should represent environmentally in accordance with the convention adopted at the Rio Conference, in which forests are no longer considered capital goods but well defined resources that are able provide services of various kinds.
This approach has made it necessary to establish what constitutes a forest and what does not, bringing to the fore, as can easily be supposed, the difficulty of interpreting it in practice (Note 2)
L.R. no. 52/78 is the fundamental regional law concerning forestry. It supports the protection of the land through water management, soil and environmental conservation, the promotion of sylvan-pastoral heritage, timber production, protection of the landscape, and restoration of fertility in impoverished and decayed soils in order to promote harmony between socio-economic development, living conditions and community safety.
The Regional Forestry Map (CFR) affords a description of Veneto's woodlands and is designed to assist the planning of forestry policies and, more generally, in land-use planning.
The first Regional Forestry Map, in 1:25,000 scale, was for a long time an irreplaceable tool for forestry studies and planning. It was drafted between 1981 and 1983 and based on the work of a group of surveyors who carried out a census of all the wooded areas in the region; they made ground observations using traditional mapping techniques and took into consideration as a rule minimum units of over 5 ha. Using these specifications 9,760 homogeneous areas were identified.
The Regional Forestry Map, originally on paper, was later produced digitally so that it could be used with a Geographical Information System (GIS).
Over the years, the ever more widespread use of mapping in any phase of environmental analysis has made clear the usefulness of forestry maps; it has, however, also highlighted the need for them to be upgraded to the new internationally recognised standards, which have also been made possible thanks to the use of modern technology. In the meantime the knowledge about the characteristics of the region's woodlands has also evolved. In particular, a different approach to the classification of woodlands has been introduced, one that is based on a taxonomic system of homogeneous units based on floral-ecological-forestry characteristics.
Taken together these considerations have brought about the need to update the Regional Forestry Map which, in its new version, is called the Regional Map of Forest Types. (Note 3)
The new Regional Forestry Map (year 2000) was able to outline wooded areas essentially thanks to video photo interpretations of digital orthophotographs made in 1998-1999 (Flight IT 2000) with a resolution on the ground of 1 metre x 1 metre, making it possible to use a scale that conformed with the Regional Technical Map and to have a minimum survey threshold of 0.5 ha of wooded areas.
The data of the new forestry map, when compared to the first Regional Forestry Map, reveals an increase in wooded surface from 1980-1983 to 1998-1999 of about 25,000 ha. In practice it went from 389,189 ha surveyed in 1980 to 414,894 ha surveyed with the new CFR, with a percentage increase of 6.6 % in terms of surface area. (Table 12.1) (Figure 12.1)
Processing the Regional Forestry Map has made possible the carrying out of statistical processing that can contribute to understanding the evolution of forests and consequently to defining the needs and the related strategies on which to base policies for specific areas and, as a result, concrete measures and actions.
Evaluations have been carried out on the following areas:
- Changes in the fertility of forest top-soil due to various factors such as early aging, pathologies, and attacks of insects. This evaluation highlighted that about 50% of the forests in Veneto may be affected by biotic interactions in forest top-soil. This demonstrates the importance of policies to prevent related damage and the need for widespread efforts promoting correct forestry practices.
- Danger of fire. With this information it is possible to measure the level of fire danger, that is to say the areas in which there is a higher or lower probability of fire, and so to prescribe adequate prevention policies.
- Susceptibility to blow-downs, i.e. an indication of the mechanical stability of typology units. From processing it can be deduced that forests in Veneto are characterised by good structural stability (62% of the surface area has a low level of susceptibility to blow-downs) and that efforts for improvement should be limited to specific areas where there is a greater risk of blow-downs and not generally throughout the region.
- Suitability for production and relative fertility. This indicator identifies the wooded areas with highest fertility and, therefore, the most suitable for timber production. In these areas, it will be possible to concentrate efforts in support of timber production, of the distribution of forestry management and to raise the value added of forestry products. In Veneto more than 63% of the forests have a moderate or high relative fertility, confirming the importance of active forestry throughout the region and the need to recover, in the field of natural forestry, a greater role for forests in production.
- The effects of management policies on natural dynamism. This indicator highlights the tree populations in which cultivation practices can have a significant effect on accelerating (or decelerating) the dynamism of the various types of forest.
- How forestry management may affect macrofauna, and the presence of macrofauna sensitive to forestry practices. This information indicates the zones in which cultivation practices should be adjusted to the presence of sensitive animal species and, therefore, measures should be taken to reduce the impact of these practices on the existing fauna.
The last two indicators should provide a synergic reading of the information in the preceding points as they make it possible to evaluate the impact that forestry management has on habitats and on protected species, including those protected by European directives. According to the evaluations of the effects of forestry management on the habitats represented by the various typologies, forestry is not recommended in only 9.8% of the wooded surface area, while much more than 60% of the wooded surface area can be managed without any particular risk or negative impact. This also demonstrates how new policies which are designed to protect particular habitats should be weighed up carefully and be limited to very restricted specific areas.
The situation is different concerning the presence of macrofauna that are sensitive to forestry activities. In this area 60% of the forests in Veneto are sensitive to possible effects on the macrofauna that may be present, including several species subject, in various ways, to protection by Community directives, including bears, lynx, wild cats, mountain goats and Alpine chamois.
Sustainable forestry management
The concept of sustainable management has progressively become associated with the management of forest resources and has come to be called "Sustainable Forestry Management".
This concept is used in the abovementioned Statement of Principles for the Sustainable Development of Forests and in Chapter 11 of Agenda 21; the latter calls for the formulation of valid scientific criteria and indicators to evaluate both conservation and sustainable development in all kinds of forests.
Through the Pan European Process of the Conference of Ministers for the Protection of Forests in Europe, the application of sustainable development forests has become a European policy. This process brought about a resolution in 1993 that Member States shall promote "the stewardship and use of forests and forest lands in a way, and at a rate, that maintains their biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and their potential to fulfil, now and in the future, relevant ecological, economic and social functions, at local, national, and global levels, and that does not cause damage to other ecosystems", thus defining for the first time the concept of sustainable management.
Sustainable forestry management can be summarised as:
- maintaining the greatest functionality of forest populations as a premise for the supply of multifunctional goods and services;
- guaranteeing the survival of forest ecosystems by favouring the natural renewal of woodlands;
- guaranteeing the maintenance or achievement of the optimal levels of wood volume, in order to make a positive contribution to the world carbon cycle and to prevent pollution by assuring the effective growth of forests;
- giving greater attention to the identification and protection of particularly significant woodlands both from a historical and environmental perspective;
- accounting not only for the condition of the top-soil, but the whole forest biocoenosis including the aspects concerning to fauna.
To support this, Regione Veneto has undertaken procedures for the certification of its own Environmental Management System in conformity with ISO 14001, identifying as a first stage in its efforts, undertaken by the relevant offices, to monitor and to intervene technically in support of forestry and of planning the future layout of Veneto's forest heritage. The objective of the initiative is the introduction of a management system that guarantees the achievement of the environmental objectives and the recognition of the principles of sustainable forestry management that Regione Veneto has established throughout the process with the aim of continually improving its environmental performance.
For at least thirty years Veneto has based its widespread forestry planning, which involves all public property and private land, on the application of the principles of natural forestry and the reassessment of the importance of productivity in favour of other functions for woodlands. This has made possible the rapid recovery of woodland environments after the excessive exploitation which had occurred, particularly during the last two world wars. Consequently, the current state of the woodlands in Veneto and the sustainability of their management seem to be overall more than satisfactory.
Even though there are traditions going back to ancient Alpine communities, especially in Cadore, followed by those of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, some of the first studies and investigations that laid the foundation of forestry management on an ecological basis were carried out in Veneto.
Currently forestry is in a great transitional phase, not only because woodlands are called on to perform various functions and are no longer characterised by the pre-eminence of timber production, but especially because forestry policies have to be supported by a high degree of planning due to the complexity of the environment variables to be considered.
Over the course of the last twenty years, that is beginning in the mid-1980s, there has been a doubling of the planned surface area; this increase has become even more significant over the last five years: because of the widespread diffusion of plans for the reorganisation of woodlands, the surface area subject to planning has increased by more than 50%. (Figure 12.2)
Currently the state of planning is different in each of the provinces, which can be seen both from the statistical data and the distribution of areas subject to planning on the map. (Table 12.2)
From this information it emerges that the province with the highest level of forestry planning is Belluno, where forestry planning can be considered sufficiently and effectively established. The province of Padova is excluded as its only wooded countryside, located in the Colli Euganei (Euganean hills), is involved in a reorganisation plan. The situation is different in the provinces of Vicenza and Verona, which have a level of planning lower than the regional average.
Beginning in the 1990s European agricultural policy reached a turning-point in its economic support of agriculture favouring the growth of plains woodlands in order to reduce agricultural surpluses. This objective, reiterated in the recent Rural Area Programme, has taken on a wider meaning in the search for solutions to the environmental emergency that in recent years has become a high priority for public opinion.
The prospect of creating an ecological network between plains woodlands is one of the principal objectives of the Regional Territorial Coordination Plan, which is designed principally to add value to the plains landscape and to protect the ecological viability of the woodlands themselves.
The roles played by plains woodlands are manifold: first and foremost is their function of reducing pollutants, as well as their capacity for natural purification and for removing pollutants from water and land (bioremediation). These functions are linked to absorbing CO2 and carbon storage.
Not least among the considerations is that woodlands are perfect for learning about and studying nature.
In this perspective Regione Veneto passed Regional Law L.R. no. 13 of 2/5/2003, "Norms for creating woodlands in the Veneto plain", amended by L.R. no. 15/2006, which promotes the creation of woodlands in urban and suburban areas in order to: improve the quality of the environment, of the air and of the water in the region; to create natural spaces in green areas that allow people to enjoy recreational and relaxing activities; to improve the water safety of the land in connection with wooded areas; to reduce the effects of air pollution and urban crowding; to increase biodiversity in plains ecosystems; and to favour native tree and shrub species.
Arboriculture for timber
Arboriculture for timber is the cultivation of tree and shrub species to produce a variety of goods for a variety of uses.
Its functions are not limited merely to aspects of production. It is becoming increasingly clear that there are positive effects on the environment that stem from the improvement of the landscape, creation of ecological corridors (Note 4)
, capacity for bio-purification (Note 5)
, bio-remediation (Note 6)
and, last but not least, absorption of carbon dioxide and fixing carbon, to name just a few.
In contrast to agricultural production, arboriculture for timber production is characterised by a season (a crop cycle) that is not always well-defined, since it is established by market factors that may delay or hurry the harvest.
According legislation (L.R. no. 52/1978 (Note 7)
, art. 14 and D.L. no. 227/2001 (Note 8)
, art. 2) arboriculture for timber does not constitute woodlands and so, after the deadline for the crop cycle, the land can be utilised for other kinds of legitimate purposes or management; this is known as reversibility. This characteristic allows arboriculture for timber to be considered a cross between forestry and agriculture because of the relatively short crop-cycle associated with the production of wood products typical of forest plantations.
Since wood production is only one of the objectives pursued through cultivation, it is also associated with other benefits (for example, quality and biomass timber, bio-purification, bio-remediation, wind-breaks, fruit production, improvement of the landscape, and recreation); consequently we speak of multipurpose arboriculture.
On the basis of the kind of goods that are produced, arboriculture for timber can be performed for the following purposes: wood biomass (Note 9)
, and quality wood.
According to the length of their crop cycle, plantations for the production of biomass wood fall in two distinct types: short-cycle forests, also called Short Rotation Forestry (SRF), a model of cultivation that has attracted considerable interest in Veneto; the harvest is generally chipped (Note 10)
when fresh, or dried naturally in the field and is destined to be used for producing of energy, making panels or paper. The other type is medium-cycle forestry for the production of firewood. The cycles are longer than those of SRF, generally by 4 to 6 years.
The production of quality wood is designed to provide goods with significant value added, such as lumber and veneers. In Veneto, most plantations have been established with financial support from the European Community, which has made it possible to devote a surface area of 3,617 ha to arboriculture for timber.
The production of biomass wood and quality wood allows two different types of product to be grown on the same surface area, but in different timeframes.
Forest fires are a serious danger for woodlands: if they are not put out promptly they can cause serious damage to vegetation, animals and, at times, to property and people.
The dangerousness of a fire varies according to the kind of vegetation involved. If the fire is a surface fire, it burns the underbrush only and the damage to trees is limited; the passage of fire, however, still causes vegetation to degrade towards more primitive forms.
If instead the fire involves the canopy, its destructive potential becomes much higher and it spreads at considerable speed. These fires destroy all the trees and underbrush; furthermore they cause the death of most of the fauna present, because the animals have no time to escape given the speed of propagation. These fires are very dangerous to everyone, including the fire-fighters trying to put them out. Finally they also cause disruption of water management.
In Veneto between 1998 and 2008 there were 628 fires (Note 11)
that burned a surface area of 3,725 hectares. As can be seen in the figure, the number of fires has not been constant, but there have been large variations from one year to another due primarily to weather conditions (as is easy to imagine in drier years, there are more fires). Social dynamics also influence the number of fires that are recorded.
A positive fact that can be seen in the figures is that since 2004 the surface area burned has remained very low; this is the result of how the forest-fire fighting system of Veneto has improved its effectiveness and is able to put out the majority of fires as they start. (Figure 12.3)
Fires are usually caused by humans: in Veneto only 3% are caused by natural events, such as lightning during summer thunderstorms. Half of fires caused by humans are arson; these are often the most dangerous fires because they occur in the places where they can cause the most damage. Fire caused by negligence, that is they are lit unintentionally, are often caused by carelessness and have various origins: the most common are the burning of stubble or crop residue that gets out of the control of those who started the fire, but there are a wide range of other causes, from barbeques to traffic accidents. (Figure 12.4)